‘Austin Found’ is an obnoxious waste of an overqualified cast
Following in the footsteps of far better films like Drop Dead Gorgeous and Little Miss Sunshine, Will Raee’s Austin Found aspires to be a tragically dark comedy commenting on the American dream, but all it manages to accomplish is the waste of an absurdly overqualified cast.
Linda Cardellini (Grandma’s Boy) stars as deranged pageant mom Leanne Wilson, the type of washed-up Queen Bee who would have made Cardellini’s Freaks and Geeks character Lindsay miserable in high school. After Leanne’s daughter Patty (Ursula Parker, from Louie) botches a pageant by giving too intelligent of an answer to a generic question, Leanne takes inspiration from news coverage of a kidnapped girl recently reunited with her parents and concocts a plan to have her own daughter kidnapped, as a deranged marketing stunt.
To accomplish this, Leanne tracks down her old flame Billy (Skeet Ulrich) and convinces him she never stopped loving him, but couldn’t leave her husband Don (Jon Daly) because she has no way of supporting her daughter on her own. Billy falls for Leanne’s plan and in turn enlists his bud JT (Craig Robinson) to help with the kidnapping by telling him Leanne and Patty are trying to escape Don’s domestic abuse.
If this sounds like an idiotic and poorly thought-out plan, that’s because basically everything about this film is idiotic and poorly thought-out. It’s as though Raee watched Gone Girl and decided he could make a hit of his own by simply shifting that story over to the pageant circuit and enlisting a who’s-who of the improv comedy world. The only thing about Austin Found worth thinking about is what kind of criminal activities Raee indulged in to get this cast: Patrick Warburton (Rules of Engagement) as a shallow, clueless sheriff! Kristen Schaal (The Last Man on Earth) as a third-rate newscaster bullied by Leanne in high school! Chris Parnell (21 Jump Street) as her boss! Jaime Pressly (My Name Is Earl) as a rival from Leanne’s Avon saleslady days!
Nonetheless, the star-studded roster does absolutely nothing to help this bloated debacle of a film. Before making Austin Found (originally given the very creative title Lost in Austin), Raee mostly worked on such wonderful TV series as 1000 Ways to Die and Criss Angel Mindfreak, and he brings that same junk food aesthetic to this film, framing scenes with all the flair of a Subway sandwich artist. Raee similarly lacks vision when it comes to his actors, bringing out inconsistent, erratic performances – ranging from obvious but serviceable (Cardellini) to limp and lifeless (Daly) to Tex Avery-esque (Ulrich, whose entire performance can be summed up with this gif). Much of the time, it seems like Raee let the cameras roll while the performers tried their best to improvise something resembling an entertaining film: the fallback of hack comedy directors everywhere.
What’s most unfortunate is that Robinson and Parker make the most of it in their scenes, and the friendship their characters form is the closest the film ever comes to being watchable. In these moments, it’s impossible not to sympathize with Parker and her character, as they’re both being held hostage by incompetent buffoons dragging them along on an ill-conceived get-rich-quick scheme. As an adult, Robinson must take some of the blame for his bad decisions, but you can tell he is genuinely having fun with Parker and working to find some kind of middle ground for their characters, trapped as they are by the selfishness of those around them.
By the time Austin Found rolls around to its fourth ending, it’s hard not to put yourself in Patty’s shoes, glumly following directions, hoping things will be over soon one way or another. You hope a failure of this nature serves as a lesson for everyone involved, but in your heart you know it won’t, and within a year you’ll probably hear Raee has done what so many other mediocre dudes in Hollywood have done: failed his way right up to a plush gig directing a Star Wars entry. And so, you realize the true message of Austin Found isn’t that Americans are superficial and desperate for attention regardless of whether it’s good or bad – but that mediocre men always win.